In Nevada, it is illegal to put an American Flag in a bar of soap
In Georgia, picnics are prohibited in graveyards
In Iowa it is illegal to sniff glue
In Louisiana, it is illegal to gargle in public
A pickle has to bounce to be considered a pickle in Connecticut. The regulation has its roots in a 1948 incident in which pickle packers Sidney Sparer and Moses Dexler were arrested for selling rotten pickles “unfit for human consumption,” according to the Connecticut State Library. After the men’s arrest, Connecticut’s food and drug commissioner shared a tip with reporters for weeding out good pickles from the bad: Drop them from a height of 1 foot, and if they bounce, they’re safe to eat. The pickles in question did not bounce. Sparer and Dexler were fined $500–the maximum penalty–and their pickles were destroyed. Connecticut’s bouncing-pickle regulation went into effect soon afterward.
These are just a few of the alleged rules that sparked photographer Olivia Locher’s series, “I Fought the Law” (2013–16). The body of work, which visualizes 50 of America’s most bizarre regulations, is whimsical and delightfully outlandish. But it also poses some serious questions: Where did these laws come from? How could they possibly be true? And is our legal system really that arbitrary?
Locher, a self-described do-gooder, began pondering these conundrums in 2012. “One night, my friend announced that it’s illegal to have an ice cream cone in your back pocket in Alabama,” Locher tells me. “That off-hand comment stuck with me.”
Curious to learn more about the purported ban on back-pocket ice cream, Locher, like most millennials, began her research on the internet. It wasn’t easy to find the information on the rule’s origins, but after some digging, she learned that her friend had been wrong. According to her research, it wasn’t illegal to store a cone in your pants in Alabama. At one time, however, it had been off limits in Kentucky and Georgia. Legend has it that, in the 1800s, horse thieves nestled ice cream in their back pockets to lure the animals away from their rightful owners—hence the crackdown.
“I Fought the Law,” which comprises a new book by the same name, brings together 50 of these unbelievable regulations—one for each state. Locher found them across the internet, and in two books published: Crazy Laws (1979) and More Crazy Laws (1992), both by Dick Hyman.
In South Dakota it’s unlawful to cause static
In Rhode Island it is illegal to wear transparent clothing
One spread pictures a man who’s mounted a bike that is half-submerged in a pool. He wears swim trunks, goggles, and a swim cap—equipment that becomes futile the second you realize he’s not riding the bike through the water, but actually sinking. The caption that accompanies the image reads: “In California nobody is allowed to ride a bicycle in a swimming pool.”
Another shows a woman removing her top in front of a stately portrait of former president Dwight Eisenhower. The corresponding text reveals the origin of the image: “In Ohio it is illegal to disrobe in front of a portrait of a man.”
And an image of a woman ecstatically glugging a bottle of Chanel No. 5 like she might a fine wine says: “In Delaware it is illegal to consume perfume.”
Across the series, Locher doesn’t distinguish between fact and myth. The ambiguity is intentional “because these laws themselves are ambiguous,” she says. “It’s hard to find anything about them—their origins, whether or not there’s any truth to them—even in law books.”
This obscurity also reflects how archaic, arbitrary, and downright puzzling laws, and the legal jargon that surrounds them, can feel to the American public. And how easy it is for these regulations to be interpreted—or misinterpreted. Locher’s photos highlight these absurdities by broadcasting them in a language we can all understand: images.
In Hawaii coins are not permitted to be placed in ones ears
In Mississippi Sesame Street was once banned from pubs
In Alaska it is illegal for an intoxicated person to be in an establishment that serves alcohol
In Michigan it is illegal to paint sparrows with the intention of selling them as parakeets
In Maine it’s unlawful to tickle women under the chin with a feather duster
In Arizona, you may not have more than two dildos in a house
In Florida, a person may not appear in public clothed in liquid latex
In Kentucky, it’s illegal to lick a toad
In Massachusetts, photographing upskirt photos can be considered a crime
In Missouri, it’s illegal to deface a milk carton
In Nebraska, it’s illegal for a parent to perm their child’s hair without a state license
In Pennsylvania it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up
In Texas it is illegal for children to have unusual haircuts
In North Carolina it’s a misdemeanor to urinate on someone else’s property
In Idaho it’s illegal to be nude outdoors, even on private property
In Wyoming, it’s illegal for a hairdresser to groom one’s pubic hair
In Washington, it’s illegal to paint polka dots on the American flag
In Wisconsin, it is illegal to serve apple pie in public restaurants without cheese
In Minnesota, it is illegal for a person to cross state lines with a bird atop their head
In Oregon, people may not test their physical endurance while driving a car on a highway
In Virginia, spitting on a seagull is punishable by a fine